Doug Wolter: An unexplainable longing on Father's Day
Fathers and sons playing catch: It's a cosmic connection that never loses its meaning
I do not know how many fathers and sons will see a baseball game together this weekend, but I’m sure the number will be staggering. It’s a good thing, I think, that Father’s Day happens in June, where baseball is played all over this great nation.
Baseball may or may not still be America’s Favorite Pastime, as it once was, but the cosmic connection The Game fosters between dads and their sons is a phenomenon that continues to defy explanation.
It so happens that I am thinking today of the iconic 1989 Kevin Costner film, “Field of Dreams”, and the way that beloved baseball movie affected so many fathers and sons when it first appeared in theaters. It so happened to arrive just one year before my own dad passed away, in October of 1990, at the age of 75.
My wife, Sandy, and I watched the movie together. By this time, dad was already in poor health, weakening due to a fading heart that would ultimately do him in. He was always on my mind.
I remember liking “Field of Dreams” throughout, but I liked some parts more than others. I certainly enjoyed the fact that the film was set in Iowa, the state that I grew up in. I remember wishing that the Costner character, Ray Kinsella, hadn’t talked about the falling-out he had with his father when his father was still alive. The movie would’ve been just as good -- maybe even better, I thought -- if the two of them had been very close. As close, actually, as I was with my own sweet dad, whom I glorified (he was a WWII vet and a fine left-handed pitcher in the amateur leagues during his heyday, and he was even discovered and given a tryout by the St. Louis Cardinals organization before the war came).
And, of course, I was clueless about the film’s ending. I didn’t see it coming at all.
So when Kinsella’s dad, John, takes off his catcher’s mask and reveals his true self to his son at that magical ballfield where all those deceased Hall of Famers had congregated to play the Grand ol’ Game, I suddenly realized what the film’s climax had been building toward. It wasn’t about Shoeless Joe Jackson at all. When Ray was told, “If you build it, he will come,” it was about an otherworldly reunion between father and son.
They played catch together.
And I cried like a baby. Sandy understood completely.
How many times did my dad and I play catch as I was growing up? Countless. Do I remember all those Little League games wanting to do nothing so much as make him proud of me? You better believe it.
I know I’ve written about it before, several years ago in another Father’s Day column, but I’m going to mention it again now. I had a dream about my dad several years before his death, and I revealed it to him in a letter on Father’s Day. I told him we were in heaven together, looking to be the same age. And we were in baseball uniforms, standing side-by-side with our elbows resting on a chain link fence and looking into the bright sunshine.
I told him how much I loved him. And I said I hope that’s what heaven will be like. And that maybe we’ll get to play baseball there together someday.
I asked mom if dad liked the letter. She said he cried, and that’s all I needed to know.
Since then, I have learned that actor Dwier Brown, who played John Kinsella in the film, said he can hardly go anywhere without some misty-eyed guy asking to play catch with him. It might be someone like me, who played catch with his own dad countless times. Or it might be somebody who never played catch with his dad. Everyone has that unexplainable longing, Brown said.
Happy Father’s Day.